Making white bread is fairly easy. Fresh bread is very tasty without all of the preservatives and other crap. It does take time, but most of the time is spent waiting, so you can read, screw around on your computer or go for a walk during some of the waiting times.
This recipe will yield one loaf. It will scale up for two loaves by doubling the ingredients; you'll also need to double the flour addition steps (see #2 and #4).
Ingredients and Gear:
1 package of active dry yeast (¼ oz.)
1¼ cups of warm water (100-115°F)
1½ tablespoons of white sugar
1½ tablespoons of softened butter
½ tablespoon of salt
3¼ cups of bread flour-- some wizened old lady in the store told me that King Arthur flour is the best to use.
1 2-qt pan of water (optional)
Heating pad and cloth towel (optional)
2 large bowls
1 5x9 loaf pan (two for two loaves)
Plastic wrap or wax paper
Stand mixer or food processor with a dough blade (optional)
1. Put the warm water into a large bowl. Whisk in the yeast and the sugar. Let it stand for ten to fifteen minutes. You should see signs that the yeast is growing.
2. Stir in a cup of flour, mixing well. You can use a mixer, though a hand mixer will not handle the entire mixing process. A sturdy food processor with a dough blade or a heavy stand mixer will work nicely.
3. Mix in the salt and the butter. (If you add the salt before you mix in the first cup of flour, you will kill off most of the yeast, the dough won’t rise and the result will have the consistency and the taste of drywall.)
4. Add flour, a ¼ cup at a time, mixing it well. Towards the end, you are probably going to be mixing it in with your hands (unless you're using a powerful food processor or a stand mixer). Keep mixing the dough until it has all pulled together. It may take you a time or two to know when this happens; the dough will have picked up almost everything in the bowl.
5. Lightly flour a large flat surface (this is a reason to keep your countertops clean). Start kneading the dough. There are a bazillion techniques, one is to push the dough flat, fold it over on itself, turn it a ¼-turn, push it flat and keep repeating, adding flour as necessary to the surface. You need to do this for about ten minutes. You'll be finished when the dough becomes somewhat elastic and it won’t be sticky. What you are doing is breaking down the gluten so that the bread will rise properly. (If you use a stand mixer or a food processor to do the kneading, you may need to add additional flour or the dough will be too sticky.)
6. Optional: If you have a cold kitchen, half-way through the kneading process, either put the pan of water on the stove and boil the water or turn on the heating pad.
7. When you are done kneading, put a little bit of vegetable oil in the other large bowl. Put the ball of dough in the bowl and turn it over so the entire ball is lightly covered with oil– this keeps it from sticking to the sides. (Don’t clean up the flour left on the countertop, you’ll need it.)
8. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or wax paper, cover with a towel and set aside to rise. If your kitchen is cold, put the bowl on top of a heating pad and then put a towel over the bowl. Or you can put the bowl the top rack in a cold oven. Put the pan of very hot water on the bottom rack. This will warm the inside of the oven to 80-90°. If you leave it out on the counter in a cold kitchen (like up here in South Cryogenica in the winter), it won’t rise property. Given a choice between the "hot water in the oven" method or the "heating pad" method, the heating pad is far easier to use.
Be careful here if you use the "hot water & oven" method. You can over-rise the dough. In a 63°F kitchen, I've found that using a heating pad for the first rise works the best.
Let it rise for an hour, it will double in size. If it rises too much or too little, adjust your rising time as need be.
9. (If you are using a cold oven to rise the dough, take the pan of water out of the bottom rack and put it back on the stove to reheat it.) Take the wrap of the bowl and punch the dough down to deflate it. Dump the dough onto the floured countertop. (If you doubled the recipe for two loaves, this is where you must cut the dough into two equal amounts.) Flatten the dough out and shape it into a size that will fit the loaf pan(s). A little kneading in this step doesn't hurt, but don't go nuts. You can over-work the dough.
10. Lightly grease the inside of the loaf pan. Put the dough inside. Lightly coat one side of a sheet of plastic wrap or wax paper with vegetable oil and lay it over the top of the loaf pan, oiled side down. Do not stretch plastic wrap tight.
11. Put the loaf pan aside to rise for 45 minutes. If you have a cold kitchen, put the loaf pan back in the cold oven on the top rack and the pan of hot water on the bottom rack for 30 minutes. Or you can put the loaf pan(s) on a heating pad and cover them with a towel.
12. Take the loaf pan and the water pan out of the oven and set the loaf pan on a countertop. (Do whatever you want with the hot water). Set the oven rack so it is in the middle of the oven.
13. Preheat the oven to 425°.
14. Remove the wax paper/plastic wrap from the loaf and put it in the oven for 30 minutes, and turn the oven down to 375°. You can test for doneness by taking the loaf out of the pan and tapping it on the bottom, it should sound somewhat hollow. If you want the sides to be a little crusty, take the loaf out of the pan 5 minutes early and then put the loaf back into the oven.
15. Remove the loaf from the pan (if you didn’t in the previous step) and set it on a cooling rack. Let it cool almost all the way to room temperature (by touch) before you slice into it. Store in a bread bag.